There's a new kind of rhetoric coming from the leading Democratic presidential hopefuls. Desperate to regain the White House, they are talking not just about foreign and domestic policy, but about God and Jesus. Such "God talk" is nothing new in politics, but this latest manifestation demands our careful attention and handling.
Last fall, Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, whose commitment to Orthodox Judaism is well known, reminded The New York Times that Democrats "care about values, including faith-based values." Like Republicans, Democrats also care about getting elected, and several recent polls indicate that without the votes of the religiously committed, the party of Jefferson has about as much chance of regaining the presidency this year as Saddam Hussein. The problem: The Democratic frontrunners are out of step with voters who expect their leaders to care about God.
In a study titled "Our Secularist Democratic Party," political scientists Louis Boice and Gerald De Maio say the strongest indicator of people's party or voting patterns is whether they go to church, and whether they are believers or agnostics. "In terms of their size and party loyalty," Boice and De Maio say, "secularists today are as important to the Democratic Party as another key constituency, organized labor."
The reality for the Democrats is that there are not enough secularists. Democratic candidates need the votes of observant Christians, Jews, and Muslims to win. An O'Leary Report/Zogby International Values Poll found that 59 percent of Americans say having a president who is religious is important to them. (This includes 51 percent of those surveyed in the "blue states" won by Al Gore in 2000.) Pollster John Zogby said, "It is ultimately very ...